Forthcoming Mormon History Conference
Historians to Consider the Mormon War
Salt Lake City – A three-day history conference begins May 24th at the Salt Lake City Hilton to discuss "Crossroads and Confrontations." The specific topic will be the 1850s when Mormons were pitted against the United States.
The event is sponsored by the Mormon History Association. Guests will be treated Thursday evening to a reception and welcome by Michael W. Young, president of the University of Utah. The conference continues through Saturday.
Many of the historians will also travel the following Sunday and Monday to sites that were important during the Utah War, including Fort Bridger, Eckelsville, Camp Scott, and Fort Supply in Wyoming and Mountain Meadows in southern Utah. At Fort Bridger, Richard Sadler, dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Weber State University, will speak on the fort's pivotal place in the Utah War.
At the Hilton, USC Professor of History William Deverell will relate what Californians thought of Mormons during the Civil War. Overlooking Salt Lake City, Fort Douglas offers a stark reminder of the threat Abraham Lincoln felt Utah posed to the nation during the conflict between the states, which came only ten years after the Utah War.
Not all contemporary Mormons know how radically non-conformist and treasonous their ancestors were in the eyes of other Americans. Historians remember. In 1857 U.S. President James Buchanan sent a fourth of the U.S. military to subdue the "Utah rebellion."
The conflict is "a poorly understood watershed in Mormon history," according to historian Will Bagley. "Scholars are beginning to recognize that what has long been caricatured as 'Buchanan's blunder' was, in fact, the opening act in a struggle between a republic and a millennial religion--a conflict that lasted almost four decades." With 2,500 American troops approaching, Mormon settlers were thrown into a state of alarm, eventually leading to the massacre of a wagon train heading for California in September 1857.
Michael Homer, editor of On the Way to Somewhere Else: European Sojourners in the Mormon West, 1834-1930, takes another view. "Buchanan began a war against American citizens because of confidential and unconfirmed information that they were disloyal and in a state of rebellion. Ironically," Homer adds, "'Buchanan's folly,' and the subsequent military occupation of Utah, left the United States government less prepared for the more important conflict, the Civil War."
Such views, backed by extensive research, will be shared at formal sessions of the history conference. In all, over a hundred research papers will be presented. The event is being held on the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Utah War.
Another landmark this year in Mormon studies is the 100th anniversary of Utah Senator Reed Smoot's vindication in Washington, D.C. Under suspicion for four years after his election because he was Mormon, in 1907 the Senate voted to allow the Mormon apostle to retain his seat. "The Reed Smoot hearings placed Utah in the national spotlight and profoundly affected the course of Mormon history," observed Michael Paulos, editor the forthcoming Mormon Church on Trial: Transcripts of the Reed Smoot Hearings. "The Smoot hearings effectively ended the practice of Mormon Polygamy."
On Sunday morning, historians will gather at the Assembly Hall at Temple Square for a morning devotional. At Saturday evening's banquet, MHA President Ronald K. Esplin of the LDS Historical Department will speak, and the annual book and article awards will be presented.